tv The Communicators CSPAN November 29, 2010 8:00am-8:30am EST
>> host: "the communicators" is on location at downtown washington, d.c. at the government 2.0 summit, and our topic this week in open government and telecommunications policy. here is our lineup. first up is david east from vancouver, canada. he'll be talking about how the canadian government uses technology to create more access to government. after him, stacy donahue of the omidyar network. she's their investment directer, and this foundation invests in technology to increase access to government worldwide. and finally we'll talk with the kenyan pundit, and she uses her blog and technology to increase access and awareness of politics in africa. first up, david eves of canada.
what do you do for the city of vancouver, canada? >> guest: i advice them there around open government and open data. >> host: and what is open government? >> guest: open government is this idea that we can have better access to decision making, to information, to the machinery of government, and then when we have it accessed, citizens have, you know, are more informed, are better able to influence decisions that affect their community and can actually self-organize and try to create services and help themselves rather than just relying on government. so kind of leverage what government's done to also help themselves. >> host: and how does technology help that? >> guest: i think a lot of governments have always strived to be open, especially in the united states. right from the very beginning there was this notion we were going to print everything and share everything. in canada there's been a strong history of trying to open up government as well. but technology, i think, has really changed how we can do
that. now we live in an era with, you know, digits and 1s and 0s we're able to translate huge quantities of information to citizens who are interested. the real question is how do we get this information in a way they can search it and use it and make it real for them and do whatever they want with it. >> host: in a resolution you called for vancouver to think like the web. what did you mean by that? >> guest: so the goal of think like the web, if you look at how the internet works, you have this huge conversation going on where really anybody can come and participate, and they can leverage the work that other people have done. so if you have a web page and you write a blog, i can comment and build and create my own thoughts leveraging what you've done, and for those in the open source space i can actually take your code, and i can go and build something that's different, better, you know, that suits my needs.
and that's kind of what's made innovation happen on the web. the question is how can we take that exciting process and what can we learn from it and then apply it to government. and here there are huge opportunities for rethinking how government integrates with citizens, it leverages what the web has done. >> host: how connected is vancouver? >> guest: so i think vancouver's a very blessed city. we have a huge software industry, huge video game makers in vancouver, a strong developer community, a lot of the innovations around video on the internet took place early on in vancouver, so i would say it's a very connected city. and that means we have a community to have people who naturally understand the opportunity of the web and what it could mean for government. >> host: what's the government support of broadband expansion in many canada? -- in canada? >> >> guest: in canada -- it's a great question because the united states is a big country, but canada is bigger but more
sparsely populated. so you have to think of the united states but with one-tenth the number of people, so that means you're going to have huge distances between towns. you're getting broadband in rural communities is an enormous question in canada. it's one of the main issues governments have to tackle with. before broadband it was how do you get phones to rural communities, so this has been a longstanding issue. the government plays an active role in trying to guide the private sector and sometimes it takes a very direct role -- >> host: how sosome. >> guest: they will sometimes have investment requirements of kind of the telco companies -- >> host: requirements? >> guest: originally, you know, the telcos were government owned. >> host: right. >> guest: in canada, each province -- i grew up in a province where every government had its own telco. it was wasn't clear how the sectsectould bridge these thiewj
distances -- huge distances, but those have since been privatized. >> host: and how much government support, subsidies, how much is spent annually, do you know? on broadband or communications policy? >> guest: on broadband i know enough to be dangerous. so i should be careful about how much i go out -- and i don't know specific numbers on how much they spend. >> host: we've had a ongoing debate, and it's kind of increased here in this country on the issue of privacy and online privacy, telecommunications policy. where's the debate in canada on that issue? >> guest: canada, i think, has been a little bit of a leader in this space, and that's in part because of we have both, you know, the provincial which is like our states level, many of the provinces but the federal level as well we have an office of the privacy commissioner, so this is a government agent who is tasked with thinking nothing but privacy. and not just within government, not just what information does i government have about citizens and how do we want to manage that information and make sure
it's used judiciously and always kept private, but also they look out at industry and say what are the industry practices going on, what does that mean for privacy, and they're really citizens' advocates for issues of privacy. and they have been very, very aggressive, especially dealing with some of the networks and talking about facebook. very concerned and very aggressive and always kind of looking at what are the privacy considerations we need to be thinking about. canadians are actually very, very well served in this area. >> host: is vancouver one big hot spot? >> guest: no. we -- there is not a kind of citywide municipal hot spot in vancouver, and i don't know of a single city in canada that has that. there may be one, i just don't know about it. i do know that what's been interesting is montreal and toronto there have been efforts to kind of self-organize hot spots, communities of people coming together and trying to create one biggitywide --
city-wide hot spot. and they've had to -- they've had mixed success. >> host: in a recent column, david eaves, you wrote -- you quoted john gilmour. the net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. what does that mean? this. >> guest: so, you know, when you are trying to access something on the internet, you know, and you're trying to block access from me to a site, one of the great things about the internet is because it's decentralized, there are usual multiple routes to get to a piece of information. so if one route's blocked, the internet will try to find other routes around that to get to it. so rather than seeing some sort of block as a this is the end-all, be-all, it treats it as a bug and tries to see can we get around this problem. i used that quote in a specific context because i'm interested in access to information in government. and one of the things that i see
happening you look at things like freedom of information requests and you see they take, you know, not just days, but months to actually get the data you've asked for, the information you've asked for, and in a world of google where, you know, people in my generation and younger are used to getting information, you know, i think the average length of a google search is something like .3 milliseconds, that's the time frame they're operating on. so when you have a young canadian who has to get information or an american who has to wait days, they look at the way their government operates, and they see it as a bug. they don't see that as an acceptable operating parameter. i see people talking about we've got to reduce by days or even by weeks, i'm like, you have to be thinking radically differently about this problem.
you need to completely collapse this timeline if you want to have a citizenship that is active and engaged. now, there are a lot of people who don't want that, and their quite happy to make us wait, but i think we can do better. >> host: what is the access to the federal government in canada online? >> guest: so in the united states -- that's a large question, so i'm going to kind of focus in this on what i think people here are most excited about which is open data, and that's certainly the work that, you know, we've been doing in vancouver. you know, open data, you know, you have data.gov, data.gov.u.k. over in the united kingdom. they're looking at the databases they have internally and saying, how can we share those? information about crime, information about education, information about health care. not just documents, but actually the raw data itself so people
might be able to do interesting things with it. in the canada what i see going on at the municipal level, there's a real interest because cities are so close to citizens, and they have so few resources. they're kind of interested in any opportunity to engage citizens in new ways and to share information with them because the demand is always immediate. it's like right in the politicians' face all the time. so vancouver's been leading that charge in canada. but at the federal level it's been much, much slower. we don't have anything like data.gov in the united states, and i think something's going to happen on the horizon, but we're already two years behind, so how much further behind are we going to slip? it's certainly an area of concern for people like me. >> host: so what are you doing down here in washington at a government 2.0 conference? >> guest: i wrote a chapter in tim o'reilly's recent book, "open government." i'm very interested in what open government means for how government's going to change. a lot of people are very interested in the citizen side, and i do a lot of work there,
but people don't seem to be talking all that much about how the role of the public servant is going to change in a world of kind of e-enabled and gov 2.0 world. the processes they use are going to change, the way they view their world, the way they view their job is going to change, so i write about that, and i'm also here to talk about some of the exciting things taking place in vancouver. >> host: that was david eaves from vancouver, canada. next up, stacy donahue of the omidyar network. stacy donahue, what is the omidyar network? >> guest: it's a philanthropic investment firm that was founded on the principle that every individual has the power to make a difference. it was founded by pierre omidyar, the founder of ebay. >> host: and what is your jobsome. >> guest: my job is directer of investments focused on government transparency which is one of five investment areas of
the network. >> host: well, so if you're informing in government -- investing in government openness, what are you investing in? >> guest: we invest in both for-profit companies as well as nonprofits that are focused on creating technology platforms that make data available to citizens on government activities in order for citizens to hold government accountable. >> host: an example, please. >> guest: sunlight foundation is one of our core grantees. they do a number of things including creating open data applications on government data as well as advocacy work to promote open government. >> host: why are you investing in these? these are not necessarily moneymakers. >> guest: that's very true. we're investing because we feel very strongly in the importance of open government and having citizens have access to information in order to promote democracy. >> host: what about the availability of technology and broadband? is that something else you look
at? >> guest: technology is definitely core to what we look at in the government transparency area because it's technology that really amplifies and magnifies the impact that individuals can have in promoting democracy and getting involved in government. >> host: now, besides the u.s. do you invest other places? >> guest: we do. we invest in africa, east and west africa as well as india. we actually just opened an office there. >> host: what are some of the road blocks or some of the hardships that you're finding in other countries that may not have as much access to technology as we have here in the states? >> guest: well, there are, obviously, a lot of differences between technology that's available here and some other countries around the world. so in africa, for example, mobile penetration far outweighs typical online use, and we're focused on organizations that utilize mobile technologies so that the most people possible
can have access to those. >> host: now, when you invest and let's say, let's take africa as an example. where does your money go? >> guest: well, we have granted to organizations like online platforms that allows outsourcing of crisis mapping organizations. it started with the post-election violence in kenya, but it's a platform that's now used all over the world including most recently for the subway strike in london. >> host: and how do you know if you've been successful in your investments? >> guest: that's a great question. we look at reach, engagement and policies and influence of the organizations we work with. for every organization it's different, but because we're focused on technology looking at things like monthly unique users of web sites to make sure that the organizations are making as many people as possible an important metric for us as well as looking at organization of citizens or even engagement of
governments. we work with some organizations that actually work with governments to enhance their transparency, and so we really want the engagement to be both from the demand side from citizens as well as from the supply side from government. >> host: do you have unlimited funds? [laughter] >> guest: no, we do not have unlimited funds, but we are very focused on deploying funds to scaleable platforms so that even small amounts of money can be invested to have large impact. >> host: microloans? >> guest: we do microfinance in the one of our other investment areas called access to capital. >> host: and is that technology-based as well? >> guest: it is less technology-based than the work we do in government transparency, although we are starting to look at mobile platforms for payments and trying to marry the two. >> host: what's been the response of some of the -- well, the u.s. government and some of the foreign governments to your investments? >> guest: i think government
throughout the world and the u.s. and elsewhere want to promote openness, want to do the best job they can for their citizens, don't always have the tools or are, you know, battling difficulties internally to get those things done. so we look to work with organizations that are not just pushing government, but also working with government so that everyone can work together to get information to the public. >> host: stacy donahue, omidyar network investment directer. thank you. >> guest: thank you. >> host: we just talked with stacy donahue of the omidyar network, and she mentioned the group ushahidi. what is itsome. >> guest: it's an open source technology platform that allows people to report on events that
they're witnessing either via the web, via e-mail, via voice, via twitter, and those events have been visualized on a map so you can get a sense of what's happening where. it's been used mainly for crisis but also for monitoring problems of the d.c. metro, the citizens can send in messages about that, and can the word means testimony in swahili. >> host: and high did you co-found this and when? >> guest: ushahidi's birth came out of the first election in kenya in 2007, and there was a lot of -- as the violence broke out, there was a lot of media censorship, government intervention in how the media was covering the story, and a lot of the sense of people didn't know what was going on. >> host: well, tell us, what happened in kenya in 2007? the. >> guest: well, the election was
essentially rigged, or there was an issue with the president being sworn in. and so violence broke out partly in protest of the election results, but also a lot of underlying issues around where people were living. you know, just sort of a civil almost conflict, yeah, that broke out. and a lot of people being displaced, a lot of people being killed both by government forces and, you know, by each other and it's something that took the country by surprise because elections are very hotly contested, but no one thought a rigging would be possible especially in this day and age with the technology and everyone watching the results as they were trickling in, the provisional results and things like that. and so there was this kind of very unexpected, and i think a
lot of people didn't know what, how to react to that, including the media. but there was also concern because we've had clashes of elections before in '92 and '97 that were swept away as, you know, minimal clashes, and i think there's also a concern that once the conflict was resolved, the government might try and sort of blow it over and say now we're back to peace and nothing really happened. and so this idea why not collect witness -- eyewitness reporting or what people were seeing and hearing both to keep track of the story, but also as a record has come, you know, so you can go back. even if government wants to squash the report, you can -- there's a record on the internet somewhere of what happened. >> host: and where were you when you founded ushahidi? this. >> guest: i was in nairobi at the time. i live in johannesburg, but i'd gone back to vote and cover the story on my blog. i i a lot about kenyan -- blog a
lot about kenyan politics, and initially i was blogging about the voting day and the transition led to the violence. and i found myself sort of in the citizen report role of covering what was going on and thinking for myself, well, i opened up my blog for comments so people could then put their stories there. and i was getting hundreds of comments. >> host: how did people find you? you don't know? >> guest: word of mouth. a lot of people in the diaspora telling their relatives to get online and report. a lot of people in the diaspora also reporting on what they were hearing, a lot of journalists using me to report stories that they couldn't report in the media. but the word just spread. if you're trying to get information about what's going on, come to my blog. and then so i was thinking if me, one person, with no advertising, i'm just in an apartment typing up could have access to this kind of information, what else could be out there? and if people without internet access could report using text
messaging, what else are we missing about what's going on? and that's how a group of us got together, and the idea was born. >> host: so how is ushahidi used today? this. >> guest: well, we -- one of the first critical decisions we took, you know, when we started in kenya, we didn't even really know what we were doing. we just had this plan, the idea was to get people telling their stories and sort of witnessing. and once we realized there was a lot of interest in it, got a lot of reports, the violence broke out in south africa a few months later, and a group got in touch with us saying can we use your code to cover this violence going on in south africa. and, you know, the idea that, first of all, we should open source this so that next time there's a crisis situation, you don't have to build the tool from scratch. and so we're used a lot in a lot of elections initially in india,
in lebanon, in mozambique, brazil, venezuela in and upcoming elections for citizens to report on the issues leading up to the election and election day itself. we've been used by a number of crisis situations, most notably the earthquake in haiti and in chile, most recently the floods in pakistan. pakistan civil society members within pakistan, you know, using it to track where people need help and sharing that information with humanitarian agencies. but also not, you know, not just for crisis situations, for political events. for things like tracking problems with the metro in d.c., a group called tbd.com is using us for that. the bbc just used us yesterday to report on the strike in the london, so we've been used all
over the world. >> host: how much independent news is there about african politics in your view? >> guest: how much independent? >> host: right. yeah. is the media pretty independent? >> guest: it depends. it's hard to generalize -- >> host: talk about kenya then. >> guest: in kenya it's pretty independent. we have, i think, almost 100 radio stations big and small, vibrant newspapers. there is some self-censorship, you know, maybe because of advertising, who buys your ads, but that's no different from anywhere else in the world. but in kenya it is quite vibrant, quite open, very little government intervention. >> host: now, you grew up in nairobi, you have a law degree from harvard. >> guest: yes. >> host: and an undergrad degree in mitt call science from the university of pittsburgh. >> guest: right. >> host: how did you get technology involved? >> guest: oh, by accident, i
think, really. when i was in law school, there was a center for internet and society there, and i was essentially a groupie. and what they did was study the intersection between law, government, policy and technology. and at the time there was a lot in the media about india and outsourcing and how they were booming, and we were thinking, you know, why can't we do this in kenya, and why are we not taking advantage of this new space to develop? but, you know, the problem was certain fundamental things like sign was illegal in kenya -- skype was illegal in kenya, and wi-fi was illegal in kenya, and no one could tell me why. i even spent a summer interning in kenya, and it wasn't even this broad conspiracy to shut down, it's just a cake sort of
regulation, and you needed to lobby the right people, and, you know, convince someone that actually they're no threat to national security. wi-fi is not legal. the spectrum was allocated to the army like, you know, 30 years ago, and so, you know, you had to have a whole conversation around getting the spectrum back. so i became fascinated with this intersection of sort of law and policy and how it had really practical, sort of at that time negative implications on our ability to be a strong economy. and if your starting point is banning skype and voiceover ip, you know, clearly it's impossible to get a lot of other things right. >> host: have those policies changed in kenya? >> guest: yes. dramatically so. we still have a long way to go in terms of just the actual infrastructure and public regulation in terms of protecting consumers and
encouraging competition, but as far as things opening up, it's changed dramatically. >> host: and ory, what are you doing here at the government 2.0 summit in washington, d.c.? >> guest: well, i'm speaking about the work i've been doing with ushahidi and other initiatives around opening it up and the power of technology to allow citizens to speak and engage. and also just -- >> host: is ushahidi still a nonprofit? >> guest: it's still a nonprofit. >> host: okay. >> guest: and also it's just a great opportunity to steal ideas. [laughter] i do that a lot and then, you know, just see what the cutting edge is going on as far as the space in open government, to meet a lot of people who i've admired -- >> host: now, why are you living in johannesburg and -- >> guest: i met my partner in johannesburg, so for now we we are -- i pay my dues. [laughter] >> host: ori is the co-founder of ushahidi.
thank you for being on "the communicators." >> guest: thank you. >> host: and that wraps up "the communicators" this week here at the government 2.0 summit. this communicators and any from the past available online at c-span.org. simply click on "the communicators" site, and you can watch any when you want. thanks for being with us. >> you've been watching "the communicators," c-span's weekly look at the issues and people impacting telecommunications policy. if you missed any of this discussion on how the u.s. and other countries are using technology to promote government transparency, you can catch "the communicators" again tonight in its regular prime time slot at 8 p.m. eastern here on c-span2.
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